Print media pursue product, ad innovations to ward off threats from digital

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Published: January 28, 2020 2:16 AM

There could be another option, though. Neena Dasgupta, co-founder CEO, Zirca Digital, suggests that news outlets could turn into products that offer news analysis, not necessarily on a daily basis, and move daily reportage online.

The closure of these publications draws attention to the inescapable need for the print medium to find new avenues for growth.

In 2019, the Bengaluru edition of the Deccan Chronicle shut down close on the heels of the DNA moving its entire operations to the digital platform. Under pressure from mounting losses, Deccan Chronicle Holdings also ceased operations of the DC Kochi, Asian Age Kolkata and all editions of its business daily Financial Chronicle. The DNA first shut down its Delhi and Jaipur editions in early 2019, followed by Mumbai and Ahmedabad in October as an immediate result of financial troubles at Subhash Chandra-owned Essel Group. The Firstpost Print, a 20-page weekly newspaper launched in January, closed operations within six months of the launch.

The closure of these publications draws attention to the inescapable need for the print medium to find new avenues for growth. “Sometimes, when you try to grow too fast without readers’ and advertisers’ support, then losses are proportional to growth. These are the reasons why papers like the DNA and DC had to shut down. Ultimately, it is economics,” says Pratap Pawar, chairman of Sakal Media and chairman of the Media Research Users Council.

As per the 2019 Ficci-EY report on the media and entertainment sector, digital is expected to become the second-largest medium to attract ad spend by 2021, overtaking print which currently accounts for about 28-29% of the pie. The report finds that print ad revenue is growing at a CAGR of about 2.5% to reach Rs 23,840 crore, whereas the television medium, which claims 40% of all ad spend, is growing at 11% and is expected to be worth Rs 40,300 crore by 2021. Digital ad spend, which currently accounts for about 21% of the advertising pie, is growing at a 27.21% CAGR to reach Rs 30,090 crore by 2021 as per the report.

In fact, print ad rates have plateaued over time. “In the last couple of years, we have seen that base ad rates in print have stagnated and not much inflation has been seen, even though newsprint prices have been going up,” points out Sujata Dwibedy, executive vice-president, head of buying and trading, Amplifi India, the media investment division of Dentsu Aegis Network India.

The Q32019 Indian Readership Survey (IRS) finds that the readership of Hindi and other regional language newspapers in markets like UP, Bihar, Punjab and Gujarat has slowly been declining over the last three quarters whereas the readership for English language newspapers is growing, albeit at a slow pace, in cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai and Kolkata.

Vikram Sakhuja, Group CEO, media and OOH, Madison, and chairman of the IRS technical committee, said the broader story of print is that the consumers’ understanding of English is increasing, evidenced by the growth of English newspaper readership.

However, the gradual decline of Hindi newspaper readership over the last three quarters indicates “movement of market share across publishers, and not growth of the market and expansion in fresh readership,” according to Pradeep Dwivedi, founder and CEO, DIVITIAE, and ex-CEO of Sakal Media Group. He adds, “This is happening in spite of significant investments made by some publishers to ramp up numbers in precisely these demographics.”

The user preference to consume news on digital versions of print newspapers through social media or short-format news aggregators has helped digital grow in terms of news distribution and consumption. However, it is not just consumer behaviour that poses a challenge. The problem is twofold. “While the demand-side ecosystem of readership continues to trouble print publishers, the supply-side issues of vagaries in newsprint prices, higher production and distribution costs, FDI norms limitation on raising investments and unrealistic wage board obligations which are not applicable to other media vehicles have also contributed to the sustainability concerns of print,” says Dwivedi.

There could be another option, though. Neena Dasgupta, co-founder CEO, Zirca Digital, suggests that news outlets could turn into products that offer news analysis, not necessarily on a daily basis, and move daily reportage online.

For instance, the Business Today recently announced that it will publish “fast news updates and ‘snacky’ business coverage on the web while the magazine will focus on its core strength of insight, depth and perspective”.

Publishers, who have not hiked print ad rates for a few years, are focusing on creating integrated advertising solutions that bundle print, digital, events and content solutions into one. “They are increasing the value of the deal through other monetisation avenues and market share-linked proposals,” says Dwibedy.

However, the challenge that media buying agencies face is that of measurement, she said. “There is no cross-medium measurement to capture the shift. Implying, readership of the same publication is moving from one platform (physical paper) to another (online, mobile); this movement of readership is not getting covered in any measurement or survey.”

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